Arizona stars Richard Jefferson, Sean Elliott reflect on Lute Olson's life
There were many notable players to come through Lute Olson's program at Arizona, but two of the most prominent are Sean Elliott and Richard Jefferson.
Elliott was the program's biggest star under the late head coach and helped lead to the program to its first Final Four appearance in 1988 ahead of an NBA career that featured a championship in 1999 with the San Antonio Spurs and 12 seasons in the league.
Jefferson was part of the UA team in 2001 that reached the National Championship game before he went on to a 17-year NBA career including winning a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
Both Elliott and Jefferson have joined the broadcast world since retirement and both players joined ESPN's The Jump to remember their former coach who died Thursday evening at 85.
"It's really hard to put into words the impact that he's had on me and the entire Tucson community," Elliott said. "Not just Tucson but the entire state of Arizona. I always joke to people that when I was in high school Tucson is where all the scouts stopped to gas up on the way to LA. No one was coming to watch basketball in Tucson and coach changed that entire landscape.
"He was larger than life. He just had a presence about him that his former players they can tell you about it. He just had a presence and an aura about him. Just to be around him, he was a legend in the city, but he was a legend to us as players, too, and we were there every day with him in practice.
"It's hard right now for all of us because we're still trying to digest this, because again if you were around coach long enough he almost felt like he was a god, like he was immortal."
Many of Olson's former players have offered up their thoughts on the Hall of Fame coach in the last few days with a common theme emerging among that group no matter the era. The Wildcats had plenty of successful players throughout Olson's time in Tucson with many going on to become stars in the NBA. It is what he gave to all his players, not just the stars and future stars, on a personal level that Jefferson is thinking about most this week.
"When you reel off his accolades it's just hard to put in words," Jefferson said. "Because, even with all that basketball that he accomplished ... I'll never forget this, when I was in college and Sean and Steve Kerr and Tom Tolbert, these guys would come back and be at one table with coach laughing and drinking wine and I would just be so afraid of them. All of us would be so afraid of them.
"We never understood, 'what is wrong with those guys?' Lo and behold the two, three years after leaving college I would come back and I was so appreciative of everything that man had taught me to prepare me for the next phase of my life. I understood why they would sit and have wine and laugh with him, and I was doing the exact same thing because he just prepared you."
"As much as we talk about all of the All-Americans there are guys like Sean Rooks, guys like Tom Tolbert, Luke Walton," Jefferson said. "Guys that were never heralded and even above average college players but because he taught them how to play the game the right way and at such a high level they were able to go on and have 10-year, seven, eight nine-year careers. Those are the guys that I think were really indicative of how great of a coach he was."
Olson was responsible for making Arizona's basketball program a household name. He brought a National Champion, Pac-12 championships and plenty of wins to Tucson but Elliott still remembers how important it was to the UA coach to give back to the community that supported him for 24 seasons as a head coach and continues to support him to this day.
"If you were an Arizona basketball player you're expected to be more than just a basketball player," Elliott said. "You're an ambassador for the university, you're an ambassador for the team, you're an ambassador for the city, and he was the first coach that played for who really emphasized giving back and being a productive member of your community not just being a basketball player.
"Coach just cared immensely about his players, and part of being a great coach was also fostering terrific young men and that was just part of it."
Olson finished his career with over 750 victories with more than 30 of his players reaching the NBA. In all, former Olson players have earned over $1.1 billion in contract salaries and over 20 NBA World Championships.
> DISCUSS the article with other Arizona fans Inside McKale
> WATCH the latest videos from GOAZCATS.com and subscribe to our YouTube channel
> LIKE us on Facebook
> SUBSCRIBE for all the latest Arizona Wildcats team and recruiting news (subscribe now)